Wider familiarity with Al Amarja creates opportunities, however. One of them is to run a different kind of Over the Edge RPG series - one in which the player characters are not hapless dupes and tourists, but seasoned veterans of the conspiracies and paranormal phenomena that litter the card game and lurk in the background of the role-playing game.
The Center for Paranormal Control (CPC) offers a perfect hook for this type of series. In this article, I will provide an outline for a CPC-based Over the Edge series. I will describe the organization and work of the CPC, put forward ideas for CPC-related player-characters, suggest adventure hooks for a CPC series and, finally, propose the use of "troupe-style play," in which there are multiple GMs - something I think would work well in a CPC series.
The CPC is mentioned in the Over the Edge rulebook, and surveyed in a one-page sidebar in Friend or Foe? (p. 11). FoF? also includes two CPC characters: Rixa Bekker (p. 10) and Anima Nee-Owoo (p. 48). On the Edge includes CPC as a trait, found on cards from the Shadows and Arcana expansions.
The CPC has five departments, each with a particular mandate. They are:
Administration - The bureaucratic spine of the Center. They prepare budgets, cut paychecks, audit expense accounts and so forth.
Registration - The division with the most contact with the general public. They pursue the Center's registration mandate: All paranormals on Al Amarja must register with the CPC and sign a loyalty oath. Associates take walk-in traffic at the HQ in Arms Barrio and field offices; Inspectors track down violators of the registration requirement.
Research - Analysts of this division classify reported phenomena as Code Ethereal ("let's look into this further") or Code Astral ("call the Chesspieces on the hotline now"). Members of this division also maintain and expand the vast CPC databases, monitoring paranormal literature and scholarship from around the world as well as pursuing other routes to knowledge (such as studying paranormal perps brought back alive by the Special Ops division, or striking out into the field in search of data).
Special Operations - The big guns. These include the crack "Chesspieces," super-powered paranormals on call to respond to major paranormal threats, as well as more mundane inspectors who perform surveillance and whatnot. A special wing of Special Ops is "BOB" (for "Black Ops Bureau"), the covert operations bureau. The highly secretive BOB is involved in clandestine activities such as infiltration of paranormal organizations and even the occasional assassination. BOB agents do not confine their activities to Al Amarja.
Technology - Hardware and oppenheimers. This division maintains the equipment, mundane and extraordinary, available to CPC agents. It also works tirelessly to develop new technologies.
Actual agents are most likely from the Special Ops, Research or Registration departments . . . and, let's face it, Registration is probably less exciting than the other two. But don't limit yourself: A character might be a Special Agent from the Administrative Division, pretending to be a Research agent while hunting for the mole who has been leaking secrets to the Hermetic Movers - maybe the double agent is another player-character!
To be fair, this trait ought to be a central trait, not a side trait, because it covers a whole family of valuable skills. On the other hand, if all of the characters in your series have the same central trait, that's not going to be very interesting . . . so don't be fair. Unless there's only one CPC agent in the character group (so this trait would be something special, letting the player enjoy his moments in the spotlight), let it be a side trait and dream up another central trait. Example: A former professor of anthropology (central trait) from a small North American college who decided on a major career change in response to a mid-life crisis. If your character has any paranormal skills (sorcery, psychic powers, the ability to craft fringe science devices), those skills should be the central trait.
Don't forget to make a unique sign for your DBI training. Perhaps your character regularly uses that old cop cliché, "Move along, there's nothing to see here," with heavy doses of irony - when the CPC is involved, there is often quite a lot to see beyond that yellow "Peace Line" tape!
Other equipment issued by the Technology Division is considerably less mundane. For the most part it is issued on an "as needed" basis, the exception being the crystal trap embedded in the CPC Inspector badge issued to every agent. Exceptions may have to be justified with a character trait.
It's probably best to start all the PCs who are agents as Assistant Inspectors. That leaves promotions as another way for the GM to reward experience and role-playing, and draw out the big storyline of the series.
CPC meta-plots could range from the apocalyptic (discovering and thwarting a global cabal of sorcerers who threaten to undermine the laws of reality by subverting them into the symbolic causality of the astral plane) to the cheesy (uncovering an island-wide society of vampiric hipsters, maliciously intent on reducing the local undead culture to a pallid reflection of prime-time soap operas). Anything is possible.
A lot of OTE material published to date is easily converted to CPC series use. The house in Dustin Browder's House Call begs for a CPC research team to explore it; the thought-projection incident witnessed by dozens at the start of Robin Laws's Unauthorized Broadcast could be a Code Astral for CPC special agents. If you can find ways to tweak the scenarios to contribute to your series' meta-plot(s), so much the better.
Here are three more specific ideas for CPC scenarios. Each is focused on a different division of the CPC (registration, special operations and research, respectively). Any player CPC team is likely to include a mix of departments and maybe non-CPC characters as well. These scenarios can work with that diversity, but their orientations let players take turns in the starring role.
This turns out to be more than a simple registry case of a girl with blossoming psychic powers. The seizures have coincided with serial murders happening around the island. It's up to the PCs to make the connection (with liberal hint-dropping from the GM). If they do, they can be assigned to work with the girl and the Peace investigation to track down the killer, who might otherwise evade capture indefinitely. It could be someone surprising, perhaps a Peace or DBI officer, or a distant relative of Monique D'Aubainne. Why does the girl have a psychic connection to the killer? What can her powers tell her?
Word comes to the Director of the CPC that the real data is out there - scientific, quantitative data that helps demonstrate the decisive role of psychic powers in the Western victory in the Cold War! The Director wants this information, not just to add it to the CPC data banks, but to use it as a tool in the eternal political battles for agency funding.
Special agents (the PCs) are assigned by the Black Ops Bureau to track down the report. You decide where it is, they decide what approach. Does it need to be bought from an information broker in Istanbul? Or stolen from a Vornite courier in Osaka? The report is not necessarily in an easily accessible form, like a manuscript in a three-ring binder or a floppy disk. And, naturally, there are parties that don't want the PCs to get hold of it: perhaps the CIA, perhaps even another faction in the Al Amarjan government that, for political or conspiratorial purposes, wants to undercut CPC funding. A lot of conspiracies like the CPC to keep out the amateurs, but a CPC too good at its job can get in the way . . .
She's not ready to come out of retirement (her arthritis makes the prospect of climbing the remote Andes unappealing), but the Assistant Director for Research thinks the CPC should check this one out. The player characters are assigned to mount an expedition. They will need a cover story as mundane archaeologists, providing the opportunity to draw in non-CPC player characters.
Will they find a flying saucer? Maybe, though it could be a hoax, perhaps driven by ulterior conspiratorial motives. The location could have freakish or fluctuating radioactivity for no clear reason (although radiation sickness might explain why the locals died or moved away). There may be desiccated alien bodies buried like an Incan human sacrifice, or a gateway to another planet or dimension. Perhaps this was a Pharaoh stronghold: The scientist was right that there was alien influence, but the aliens are Earth natives. Are they still there?
Troupe-style play is an RPG concept developed in the fantasy role-playing game, Ars Magica&153;, by Jonathan Tweet and Mark ReinHagen. The basic idea is that there is more than one Game Moderator. In a typical OTE series, the GM holds all of the secrets of the mysterious island of Al Amarja, and reveals them gradually to the players. In a CPC series, however, the player-characters know a great deal about what's really going on, and they can take a very active role in the secret world of Al Amarja. The players themselves better know what they're dealing with, and in this context it might not be unreasonable to have players take turns moderating adventures in the series. There are a lot of advantages to sharing the GM role. For one thing, if you're normally the GM, you get a chance to play, and to get a dose of the strange medicine you've been dishing out as an OTE GM. You'll probably find that it's fun, and the ideas of the players-turned-GMs give you a lot of inspiration and leads to follow up when you take the GM's reins once more.
More importantly, troupe-style play is a great experience as the series takes on a larger, shared significance for everyone. As a troupe, what you are doing is no longer just watching the careers of your individual characters; you are shaping the history of the CPC, Al Amarja and the world of the paranormal. No one person has a monopoly on the "truth" behind the game world; everyone shares in the mystery and excitement of discovery and creation as your shared Al Amarja evolves.
Give it a try!
Over the Edge, OTE and Al Amarja are trademarks of John Nephew. On the Edge and Ars Magica are trademarks of Trident Inc., used with permission.
Copyright © 1999 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.